LA Kings defenseman prospect Kale Clague has yet to play an NHL game, but he already has one thoughtful memento showing what that moment will look like.
A young fan drew two identical pictures of Clague skating in the Kings' black home jersey he hopes to wear one day, asking the second-round pick (No. 51) in the 2016 NHL Draft to sign one for her and giving him the other as a gift after an afternoon session during development camp. It was a simple gesture, but one Clague won't soon forget.
"It's definitely different," the 19-year-old said as he sat in the locker room with the drawing next to him. "I haven't even played a game in LA. I guess it's pretty cool that they recognize me from way out here when I'm in Brandon (of the Western Hockey League)."
Clague hopes to play for the Kings as soon as possible, and there are signs that day is drawing closer. When the Vegas Golden Knights selected veteran defenseman Brayden McNabb from the Kings in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21, the domino effect wasn't lost on Clague.
"That opens up another [defenseman's] spot," Clague said. "There's a lot of great [defensemen] in the organization too. I realize nothing is going to get given, so I've got to make sure I come ready for [training] camp."
Clague demonstrated his potential with Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. When Philadelphia Flyers prospect Philippe Myers sustained a concussion in the last group stage game, Clague was elevated to the top defense pair with eventual tournament most valuable player and Ottawa Senators 2015 first-round pick Thomas Chabot.
Clague finished fifth in scoring among defensemen, with six assists and a plus-6 rating to help Canada win the silver medal.
"It's good exposure, the biggest stage in junior hockey," he said. "I was really happy and honored to play on that team. I just wanted to get better throughout the tournament.
"It's never good to see a teammate go down, Philippe Myers when he went down there, but my name got called to step up to the top pair. I thought I embraced that and I thought I did well and was much better as the tournament went on."
Whether Clague is physically ready to help the Kings remains a question. At 6-foot, 177 pounds, he was the smallest of the 14 defensemen participating in development camp.
Clague said he hopes to reach 185 pounds by the time he reports for rookie camp, and Mike O'Connell, senior adviser for development to Kings general manager Rob Blake, said he likes the work Clague has done to add the right kind of size.
"He needs to get a little stronger, but he will," said O'Connell, who played 13 seasons as an NHL defenseman. "He's gotten stronger from last year to this year and is going to continue to get thicker. The League is full of undersized guys like that. He can move the puck and can play in this league right now. He's got a promising future."